Director: Declan Lowney
Cast: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Felicity Montagu, Sean Pertwee, Tim Key
Running time: 90 minutes
Release: August 7
As the fourth season of Arrested Development awkwardly demonstrated, sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. Alan Partridge never really went away following the conclusion of I’m Alan Partridge, proving surprisingly adaptable as he was revitalised through webisodes, an autobiography (of which the audiobook is an essential listen) and a couple of middling TV specials. Though not short on laughs, this run of post-BBC Partridge occasionally felt laboured, the sense that the actors were playing dress-up with B-grade material creeping in.
And so we come to Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, a project nearly a decade in the making. Refreshingly, the setting is small-scale, keeping the hapless DJ in his beloved Norwich and thus miles away from a tired trip to America. The plot is similarly streamlined. Partridge (once again perfectly inhabited by Steve Coogan who can convey all necessary tics and mannerisms in his sleep at this point), upon learning that North Norfolk Digital is set for a corporate makeover and his position is in jeopardy, immediately betrays long-time colleague Pat Farrell (Meaney) in order to save his own skin. Smash cut to Farrell crashing the rebranding party with a shotgun and Alan finds himself at the centre of a media storm, just like he’s always dreamed of.
This is all largely immaterial, just enough of a backdrop to allow Partridge to spread his wings and routinely embarrass himself. It’s a love letter to fans, though not too cryptic to be deciphered by newcomers. The script (credited to five different writers including Coogan and long-term AP scribe Armando Iannucci) is pleasingly short on callbacks, focusing instead on winding up Alan and watching him go as he initially flourishes under his police-appointed role of siege negotiator—a sequence in which he has to motivate the hostages to create a jingle for the unhinged Farrell inside one hour is particularly inspired—before he lets his newfound “Christ 2.0” fame-hungry persona go to his head and it all comes crashing down in a memorable scene that comes off much too try-hard.
Father Ted alum Declan Lowney works well with his budget, energising many segments that amount to little more than people in small rooms talking to one another. Though it might not look it, Alpha Papa comes to feel like an overlong episode of I’m Alan Partridge, complete with awkward silences and third act lull. There are tremendous zingers and there are eye-rolling clangers. There are characters who work, such as a welcome return for Felicity Montagu’s long-suffering PA Lynn, and those who don’t—Tim Key’s bumbling Sidekick Simon provokes much the same “hurry up and get off the screen” reaction as his poetry segments on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe. Pat Farrell, on the other hand, feels like something from a different film entirely.
Imbued with gravitas and heart by the great Colm Meaney, the no-frills Farrell stands out as something of a relic in the modern age of digital broadcasting and soulless facelifts. There is genuine pathos across his beleaguered features, but Alpha Papa is more interested in farce. There’s an argument that it absolutely should be, that its slight digressions into social commentary should indeed be slight, but it’s quite the puzzling situation when Alan Partridge isn’t the most engaging aspect of his own movie.